Running on fumes

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Short-handed Rockets drop one to Pistons 115-107

If there's ever a night for a potential title contender to lose a game to a sub-.500 team, this would be it. The Houston Rockets went into the Toyota Center tonight off of three games in four nights completely exhausted and without Russell Westbrook (rest) and Eric Gordon (knee scope). You never want to excuse a loss like this for a contender, but it's kind of hard to hold this one against the Rockets, when Mike D'Antoni himself admitted there was an element of exhaustion for the team tonight.

Even James Harden, famous for never admitting when he's hurt, admitted there was an element of "schedule loss" to Houston's performance tonight.

"It is what it is," Harden said after the game. "We all know how difficult it is so we have to continue to fight through."

The Rockets shot 13 for 45 from three-point range with seemingly all of the misses coming short. They looked sluggish and a step slow on defense as a team and weren't always running back in transition.

When players like Christian Wood (11 points and 12 rebounds in only 21 minutes) and Derrick Rose (20 points and 12 assists) are out-efforting you, sometimes all that's left is tipping your cap to the opponent.

"Like I said, they played well," said D'Antoni. "We just - you get behind, then you try to get back in there and a couple of things go wrong. We just didn't have the mental energy to take control of the game and get it over with."

Star of the game: James Harden gave an admirable effort tonight, but it was apparent from the beginning of the game that his tank was empty. Harden logged 39 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 1 steal on 14 of 33 shooting from the field, 1 of 4 shooting from three-point range, and 7 of 8 shooting from the free throw line. After posting consecutive 50-point games and carrying the team to their last two victories, it's hard to blame Harden for being as tired as he was.

Honorable mention: Chris Clemons took advantage of the opportunity that was given to him in stride. Clemons posted 17 points 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block on 6 of 12 shooting from the field and 5 of 11 shooting from three-point range. It's hard to imagine Clemons cracking the rotation when Westbrook and Gordon come back, but he's done a great job with the playing time that he's been given.

Key moment: James Harden scored 17 of his 39 points in the third quarter and 11 of his points came in the final 5 minutes. Harden helped the Rockets cut it to a 10-point game. Even though his effort ended up being fruitless, it was yet another example of the kind of responsibility Harden has to carry in this offense every night.

Up next: The Rockets play the San Antonio Spurs in Houston at 7:00 p.m. on Monday.

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The Houston Texans have just a couple of practices before their preseason debut. Here are 11 observations from Tuesday’s workout.

1.The offense stunk on Tuesday. It was inconsistent and resembled more of last year’s disappointing performances than any other practices in this training camp.

2. Davis Mills and his receivers had a few miscommunications on Tuesday. Mills sailed a pass to nobody when he and Brandin Cooks weren’t on the same page. There were some other throws to nowhere in the day. It was something that hadn’t been present at all in training camp to this point.

3. There were a few “good coverage” notes on Tuesday. Not to say there was one specific player, but a handful of team-level efforts that led to the note.

4. It wasn’t all wrong from the offense. After a pass to nowhere Davis Mills and the offense bounced back. It was a second down during a team drill and Mills fired a pass to Chris Moore for six yards. Rex Burkhead would pick up a first down on a rush a play later. A non-positive play last year on first down doomed this team. That hopefully won’t be the case for this year’s team.

5. Chad Beebe is going into his fifth season in the NFL, his first with the Texans. The former Vikings pass catcher has flashed a few times in training camp. He has an uphill battle being new to the team but is trying to make himself a factor.

6. Phillip Dorsett had a big catch over the middle. Davis Mills stood back and delivered as the offensive line held up and Dorsett reeled it in for a huge gain. No defenders were around him. It is between Dorsett and Chris Moore for the chance to be the slot wideout opening day. With Dorsett’s return to practice, it is becoming a fun camp battle.

7.Speaking of returns to practice, Tytus Howard was back. Howard has his reps managed and after practice, offensive line coach George Warhop Howard was “getting his wind” back. When Howard was having his reps managed rookie tackle Austin Deculus played at right tackle. Deculus looks much more consistent than minicamp and OTAs.

8. Kenyon Green is still out with an injury. It is getting to a critical time where the time missed might prevent the first-rounder from starting week one. Max Scharping hasn’t looked bad in his chances with the first team. Offensive line coach George Warhop said they believe in Green and his ability and he has been in meetings to stay up to date.

9. Ka’imi Fairbairn was perfect in one of the special team periods. He drilled all five kicks, each further than the last, and was crushing the football.

10. Derek Stingley was very sticky in some early reps on Nico Collins. The third overall pick is so smooth when he is working. Later his coverage forced a throw from the offense that had no chance of being completed.

11. The play of the day was made by Derek Stingley. The offense was about five or six yards out of the end zone needing a touchdown to win. With six seconds left on the clock, any completed pass that wasn’t a touchdown was game over. Davis Mills dropped back a step and fired to Nico Collins who Stingley covered. The rookie kept the second-year player out of the end zone to earn the defense a win. This was one of the better Stingley days and he did a lot of work. At one point, it looked as though he and Rex Burkhead had some words and almost led to an offense and defense scuffle, but it stayed to just some shouting. The rookie shined today.

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